The Google Earth Murders-Chapter 4 Is That A Bone Saw In Your Hand or Are You Just Happy to Kill Me?
Roger Davenport became an official resident of lower Manhattan, when he moved his belongings into an apartment at 90 John Street, the Thursday before Memorial Day. The building sat on a narrow street between Pearl and Gold, and had a spectacular view of another apartment building.
The sounds of construction work filled southern Manhattan, John Street being no exception. Roger spent most of the day getting settled; dodging cement trucks and getting redirected through a series of detours by a collection of unhappy police officers. The pathway to and from his apartment resembled a Tetris game, with the pieces represented by backhoes, mini-bulldozers, and barricades constantly on the move.
The last of Roger’s boxes got dropped off on the Friday before the start of the Memorial Day weekend. He’d missed most of the latter part of the workweek with the move. Gary Kaplan gave him the time off, and Roger needed it because like most Manhattanites he had become very insular in his previous neighborhood, the Upper West Side. His geographical illiteracy outside of UWS, as it was called, had him taking longer to find grocery stores and set up cable and internet and other services. He knew little about the world below Lincoln Center; East of Central Park; and North of Zabar’s.
He spoke with his boss about the area of southern Manhattan as he sat in a rented barca-lounger and looked at the large open floor plan detailing the 10thfloor of 90 John Street. The apartment he occupied.
“You’ll figure it out, Roger,” said Gary. “After all you figured out the Upper West Side. How long did that take? Only four or five . . . years?”
“That’s funny, chief.”
“Come on. It is on the same island as the Upper West Side. It has bars and restaurants and grocery stores,” said Gary. “At least I think it does. I understand they’re getting television reception there next year.”
Gary heard nothing for a moment, except Roger pushing things around his new apartment.
“Look, Roger,” he said. “Another employee used Google Earth to help them get used to a new place in an unfamiliar part of the country. I’m sure it can aid with southern Manhattan.”
“Google Earth?” He asked. “How did that help?”
Roger got out of the barca-lounger and walked the obstacle course from the living room into the small clubman kitchen. He managed to find the coffee maker during his first feeble attempt at unpacking. He poured another cup, which he would have to drink black until he found a grocery store.
“She said it gave her a more realistic idea of the locale. Where things actually were in relation to her new apartment. Was the grocery store really just down the block, or did she have to go around something to get to it? Was there something closer that might be easier to deal with, but might be more expensive.” Gary continued. “Google Earth gives you the terrain along with a lot of the businesses and subway and bus stops. It’s updated constantly. Not just the photography, but if something new opens, Google isn’t far behind in getting the information onto the application.”
“When did you become such an expert?” Asked Roger as he sucked down the coffee. “God, this is awful.”
“Black coffee. I really do have to find a grocery store. Go on.”
“It’s easy to use, Roger. For a creative guy who has an awfully good grasp of so many digital tools, you can be a Luddite.”
“Okay, Gary,” said Roger. “I’ll give it a go. I just have to some of these boxes unpacked and I’ll open up the laptop and take a look.”
“Good,” said Gary. “Call me back if you can’t find Wall Street. I’m pretty sure I know where it is.”
Gary ended the call. Roger walked over to the sink; moved an unopened box out of it; and tossed the remainder of the coffee into the drain.
“Google Earth? Ah, what the heck,” he said as he watched the liquid disappear.
Roger negotiated the obstacle course back towards the barca-lounger. Along the way he gathered up his work backpack and pulled the laptop out of it. He signed in and a bright Red, White and Blue graphic flashed onto the proclaiming the advent of the Memorial Day Holiday and just around the corner, The Fourth of July break as well. Digital reminders that every year for the past 15, he, Patricia and however many kids they had, ventured down to Cape May, New Jersey to spend both Memorial and Independence Days. This year that would not happen, unless they settled things by the 4th of July.
“That is unlikely,” he said to the screen in front of him.
Memorial Day and Independence Day were also the anniversaries of his wedding and engagements to Patricia Davenport nee Hitchcock, respectively.
Another twinge and Roger hit the space bar to clear the screen. He opened a browser and typed in www.googleearth.com. Which did not work, but did redirect him to the company’s main page with a helpful instruction to type Google Earth into the search bar.
And received the requisite message informing him he’d have to download the application, and a Pro version would be available as well . . . for a small fee.
He clicked on the link and it took him to the page where he could download Google Earth. Roger did as instructed and had the icon on his desktop in minutes. He double-clicked on it.
Seconds later the big blue marble of planet Earth spun in front of him. He put the address of 90 John Street in the search window. It gave him the view from over the top of his building and displayed about 16 square blocks of the immediate neighborhood.
If anything could be called square in southern Manhattan. People told Roger, when they found out where he moved that the charm of the Wall Street area existed in the fact that nothing laid out in a grid. It was an old Dutch village and still retained some of the cobblestone streets; blind alleys; and narrow thoroughfares of the original settlement.
“Yes,” he said again to the screen. “Very charming. No straight lines. Dead-ends. Ankle-twisting cobblestones. Charming indeed.”
He opened another browser window and did a standard Google search for ‘Grocery Stores near me.’ A Jubilee had just opened down the block right on John Street and the same for a Gristede's a few blocks away on Cedar. As if he had any idea where Cedar Street sat in relation to John, but that’s what Google Earth was going help him wi—
Then he saw it, or saw him, rather. Over on a street called Theater Alley, northeast of his apartment. The search window on his laptop just large enough to show a section of the grid that boasted of a grocery store called Brother Food Vendor on Ann Street.
When Roger moved over to take a closer look by zooming in on Ann Street, the location of the store, he did a double take. On Theater Alley, which runs perpendicular to Ann, he saw the figure of a man leaning over someone.
Roger increased the size of the image on screen to get more detail. He refreshed the browser, which is a mistake, because it took him all the way back out to a 10,000 foot view. He quickly hit the ‘+’ on the application screen until he’s back down to the level where Theater Alley is dominating the upper left corner of the interface.
He pulled his screen in the northeast direction and hit the “+” button again. A person is bent over a prostrate figure, half of who is lying on the curb and half in the street on Theater Alley. A knife, identifiable even by its blurry profile . . . is raised above the assailant’s head.
The person is in mid-strike. The body language is more forward then backward. A thin grayish streak shows underneath the assailant. It must be the victim’s blood. The attacker has already stabbed his prey.
“I read something about this. Google Earth had captured a murder on the streets of Berlin. It turned out to be just an assault, but the image did help the police capture the criminal.”
While talking to himself, Roger does a search. He is looking for a number for Google Earth or Google. Nothing. At least nothing readily apparent. He does not want to call the police. They would never believe him.
He wipes his forehead with the back of his left wrist. Roger is sweating. He searches again for a call center. Nothing at Google. Not even a 1-800 number.
He wants to save the image as evidence, but Roger can’t remember the method of screen capture. It’s a simple series of keystrokes but it has flown out of his head. It is something he has done a hundred times for work, and yet it is now gone.
Roger exhales; tosses a few boxes and articles of clothing out of his way; and picks up the land line in his apartment. He dials 911.
“911. What is the nature of your emergency?” The dispatcher, a woman, asks.
“I’m witnessing a murder,” he blurts out before he can think.
“Where is this taking place, sir?” The dispatcher asks.
“Uh, Theater Alley. Just north of Ann Street,” he replies.
“What is your name, please?”
“Uh, I’d really prefer not to give it.” Roger replies. “I’m really not sure what I’m looking at.”
“Hold, please,” she says.
Roger paces around the apartment. He squeezes the handset repeatedly.
“Please don’t trace this call,” he says out loud. “I will hang up this phone and dash over to Theater Alley myself.”
He reaches towards the ‘End’ button, when a voice comes on the phone.
“Detective Cooper, homicide.”
The voice is New York, born and raised. Bronx.
“Detective Cooper, HOMICIDE!”
“I’m sorry, Detective,” says Roger. He pauses, until he hears heavier breathing coming from Detective Cooper. “This is Mike Williams. I believe I’m looking at a homicide on Google Earth.”
“A homicide on Google Earth?” Asks Detective Cooper. “What’s that mean, Mister Williams? Google Earth?”
“I was doing a search of my neighborhood. Looking for grocery stores. I, uh, just moved in.”
“Where do you live Mister, uh, Williams?” Asks Cooper.
Roger reaches for the ‘End’ button again. But stops.
“Please, detective, I’m not sure what this is,” says Davenport.
Cooper turns and motions to his partner, Dave Acheson, who is standing at the door of the detective’s office. He has an unlit cigarette in his mouth. Cooper puts the handset under his chin and scratches out “Google Earth and Theater Alley, NYC” on a notepad. He extends it to Acheson, who walks over to Cooper’s desk.
The detective, Cooper’s longtime partner, mimes a question mark in the air in front of him. Cooper says nothing and stares at him. Cooper makes the police sign for a trace. Acheson leaves the office. He sits at a desk in the interior of the floor and runs the program for a trace of his desktop computer. A policeman behind Acheson dons a headset. He lifts his right hand and makes a one handed clapping motion, the sign for Cooper to keep talking.
“We’re not finding anything here, Mister Williams,” says Cooper, just enough sarcasm when he says ‘Williams’ to set off Roger’s alarms, “You should tell me what this is really about?”
Roger has hung up.
“Did we get an address?” He yells across the room.
“Sorry, Dennis, not on the line long enough.” The policeman wearing a headset yells back.
“We have got to get better at this,” says Cooper, in the direction of the officer with the headset.
“Oh yeah?” Replies the officer. “Well, maybe you should think to ask for the trace earlier? Maybe that’s something you should get better at?”
There’s an escalation of shouting in the room, before someone says something along the lines of, “Yeah, maybe you should all kiss my –“ Cooper slams the door to his office and cuts off the noise coming from the precinct bullpen.
Roger returned the phone to its charger. The image of the murder, if that’s indeed what it is, has disappeared from his laptop. He sits in the Barcalounger and looks out at the apartment building across the way. The home he shared with Patricia, Tyler and Max had a view of Riverside Park. A tear filled his right eye. He pressed the palm of his hand to it.
Roger fully extends the Barcalounger, and looks at the newly painted ceiling. It is the last thing he remembers before falling asleep.